NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida pastor and his son were arrested Wednesday after investigators said they fraudulently obtained more than $8 million in federal COVID relief funds, according to an NBC News report.
NBC reported that Evan Edwards and his son, Josh, 30, attempted to use some of the money to buy a $3.7 million luxury home in the Four Seasons Private Residence community at Walt Disney World Resort.
According to NBC, the case dates back to April 2020 when Josh Edwards applied for a $6 million Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan to cover payroll, rent and utilities for his family’s ministry.
In a federal forfeiture complaint, Josh Edwards claimed that the organization, ASLAN International Ministry, had 486 employees and a monthly payroll of $2.7 million.
ASLAN International Ministry was ultimately approved for an $8.4 million loan, NBC reported.
When federal investigators showed up to the ministry’s office in Orlando, the door was locked and neighboring businesses told them no one was ever seen inside, the complaint said.
The complaint also said that donation links on the ministry’s website were inactive and sections of text were apparently lifted from other religious sites.
NBC reported that federal prosecutors said the man who was listed on the loan application as the ministry’s accountant suffered from dementia and hadn’t done any work for the organization since 2017.
On Wednesday, federal agents went to the family’s home in New Smyrna Beach to take Evan and Josh Edwards into custody.
NBC News reported that the two men are originally from Canada. They face six charges, including conspiracy to commit bank fraud and visa fraud.
The news outlet reported that the Edwards family did missionary work in Turkey for many years before moving to Florida in 2019.
A civil forfeiture complaint said that federal agents showed up at the home in Sept. 2020 but no one was there and the place had been “cleared out.”
Later that evening, police officers pulled over the family’s SUV because they were allegedly speeding on Interstate 75, north of Gainesville.
NBC reported that federal agents arrived on the scene and found bags of shredded documents in the SUV, as well as suitcases full of financial records and their electronic devices stuffed into so-called Faraday bags, which block radio frequencies to keep them from being tracked, according to the civil forfeiture complaint.
Court records showed that the family was taken into custody on an unrelated immigration charge but released the next day when the case was dismissed.
In April 2021, a federal judge ordered the family to forfeit the $8.4 million.